We found severe maladministration after A2Dominion failed to fix problems with a resident’s heating and hot water over many years. Issues around responsibility for the heating between the landlord, freeholder and managing agent led to further delays in rectifying the problem. This left the resident without heating or hot water on several occasions as well as brown water coming out of the taps.
The South London resident complained that her flat, served by a district heating system, had insufficient heating and hot water for her needs, and that she did not have adequate hot water and heating at the same time. At the time she had raised a repair and noted that the managing agent had referred her back to the landlord.
After a delay, the landlord’s contractor was able to carry out a repair without collaboration with the freeholder. However, the issue was not fully fixed and another complaint was made about the heating, this time being an urgent repair. The landlord did not respond within the 24 hour window it set out in its policy and required several visits before it was finally rectified months later.
Following this, no further survey was made on the building as promised by the landlord and evidence available shows a lack of communication with the resident.
Our investigation found that there was no clear arrangement for resolution of heating and hot water issues at the resident’s block between the landlord and the managing agent and freeholder, with clarity lacking around roles and responsibilities.
The landlord had not taken the action outlined in its response to resolve the resident’s complaint, its contractor has not carried out a survey, and its named points of contacts have not liaised with the resident until resolution.
It was also unreasonable that the landlord did not work with the managing agent to resolve the heating and hot water issues experienced by the resident, not least because it suggested in its response that changes to the boiler plant impacted the resident’s property.
And while the landlord offered compensation for the lengthy delays, its award was not proportionate to all the circumstances of the case.
We ordered the landlord to apologise and to pay compensation, and for it to carry out an inspection of the resident’s heating and hot water system, identifying any parts of the system that need repair, servicing or replacement. The landlord was also ordered to provide the resident with information on the responsibilities of all relevant parties on heating and hot water issues.
In the learning from this case, the landlord said it has changed the way it works with contractors and clarified the responsibilities and service level agreements for all involved in any future repairs.
The landlord was also subject to four Complaint Handling Failure Orders in the latest quarterly report covering July to September 2022.
Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said: “Inadequate heating and hot water can lead to significant detriment and at one stage the resident reported being without heating for two days.
“Clearly the landlord had a responsibility to ensure that the resident had sufficient hot water and heating, working with the managing agent as necessary, and carrying out works that fell under its remit.
“However, there was no clear arrangement for resolution of heating and hot water issues. There were significant failings in the overall management of the scheme as it is vital for landlords to have proper agreements in place with the managing agent or freeholder, with clarity around roles and responsibilities.
“This is an issue which I see too often in our casework and our concerns have been set out in two Spotlight reports over the last two years. Both the landlord and wider sector should revisit these reports, particularly our focus on managing agents published in March which set out our serious concerns that landlords may not always have clear and effective liaison in place with managing agents or freeholders.
“Ultimately the landlord is accountable for the tenant-landlord relationship and landlords should consider our practical recommendations to help improve the experience for residents.
“I welcome the landlord’s response on its learning from this case and the changes being made to improve its service. I would encourage other landlords to consider the learning the case offers for their own services.”
In cases of severe maladministration, we invite the landlord to provide a statement on the lessons learned following the decision.
A2Dominon Group learning statement
We would like to offer our sincere apologies to our resident for the problems they experienced with heating and hot water at their property and acknowledge any distress this may have caused. The safety of our customers remains our number one priority.
A survey of the property was carried out in accordance with the advice received, and evidence of this was supplied to the Ombudsman, but we acknowledge there were failings in terms of the delays to maintenance work being carried out and the amount of compensation offered to our resident, who will now be compensated in line with this ruling.
There were significant delays caused by communication issues with the contractors who carried out these repairs on our behalf. As a result, we have overhauled the way we manage our contractor partnerships and have clarified the responsibilities and service level agreements for all involved in any future repairs for our residents on this scheme. A strategic improvement plan is in place to review this across other schemes with more complex lease arrangements.
Repair work has since been completed at the property and further inspections will be carried out to ensure this matter is not repeated.
We worked collaboratively and openly with the Ombudsman, accept their recommendations and have updated our systems and ways of working to improve how we communicate and take action.